You Had Me at Bequest

retro illustration young woman saying nobody loves me

The Care and Feeding of Donors

I’ve often said the relationship between fundraisers and donors is like dating. And, just like the dating world, in fundraising, there are duds, and there are keepers. Which kind of fundraiser are you?

First Date

You meet for the first time. Despite those first-date jitters, hopefully it went well — no one kept checking the clock or, worse, their cell phone. There were no truly awkward moments, either: No tripping over feet, bad breath (ugh!), or a piece of spinach stuck in your teeth. There was mutual interest; good conversation. You agreed to see each other again.

By the third encounter, there were the makings of a relationship. Promises are made …. and then, finally, the happy day arrives: Your prospect becomes a donor!

Now, before you rush out and start “dating” someone else (it’s okay, there’s no cheating in planned giving!), let’s address a critical question: How much time and attention are you going to continue to spend on that earlier donor?

Avoid the Ditches

Have you ever heard a guy say, “I never take her flowers, because then she’ll expect them all the time?”

In the fundraising world the equivalent would be, “I rarely contact existing donors, because they’ll expect to keep hearing from me when I have other fish to catch.”

Wake up! No one likes to be neglected, and as a planned giving “professional” (I use that word hesitantly), it’s your job to make nice with your donors, or risk getting ditched. That means continuing the romance, even if the deal’s already been sealed.

Because guess what? That “deal” can be undone, and the results of the breakup for your organization — and career — are going to be the equivalent of that old Bill Withers hit, “Ain’t no Sunshine (When She’s Gone).” Or worse yet, the CeeLo Green song “Forget You” (I’m using the radio-friendly title — the original is NSFW, but probably even more appropriate).

On the other hand, you don’t want to smother your donor with the clumsy, insecure zeal of a first crush. They really don’t need a text message every day (or a postcard every week) reminding them that they’re on your mind. Think of Ben Franklin’s words of wisdom: “After three days, company and fish both begin to stink.” In other words, “Don’t wear out your welcome.”

The Sweet Spot

Treat your dates … err, donors … the way you treat any good relationship. Let there be steady contact, but don’t be overwhelming. In fundraising, that means reaching out perhaps monthly or bi-monthly, depending on your — and their — comfort zone. More than once a month seems clingy. Less than bi-monthly seems like you don’t really care.

How should you stay in touch? If your donor dislikes talking on the phone, calling is not your best bet. Maybe she’d prefer an email or card asking how she and the family are doing, highlighting what’s happening at your organization, and how her gift is being used to make a difference in someone’s life.

If, on the other hand, you discover the donor loves to talk one-on-one, by all means call. Birthday cards and holidays cards are always a good idea, too. But be sure to use quality cards, not the dollar store variety. (A friend told me whenever her grandmother got a card in the mail, she’d turn it over to see how much the sender paid for it!)

Other ways of keeping in touch include postcards, Newslets™, texts, videos, and of course, visits. You want to see them in person at least annually.

For more on the care and feeding of your donors, check out Module III of our “Planned Giving in a Box” on Building Donor Relationships. You’ll find everything you need to systematically build donor relationships, including tools, tips and templates.

And plenty of advice to help you avoid getting ditched.

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